Boca Raton’s elected and appointed officials are scrambling to explain how so many of the existing and planned buildings in Downtown Boca appear to run afoul of our City’s basic development ordinance.
Perhaps it’s a scandal. We shall see. But giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, it might well be because almost nobody has paid much attention to the 65-page law. After all, it was passed over 20 years ago. So for those who haven’t the time or the inclination, here’s everything you need to know to monitor the upcoming Boca downtown development debate:
Ordinance 4035 is the law.
First, Ordinance 4035 is not guidance. It is the law. It is proscriptive, not suggestive. Throughout its 65 pages, the words “shall” and “must” appear over and over. The word “guidance” never appears, although the word “guide” is used in the one section relating to architectural design, where the authors attempted to give developers some leeway to modify Mizner’s original designs. But the intent of that section is crystal clear: that all development in Downtown Boca should be harmonious with what is already there. Mizner Park is new, but it does not look out of place. Nor does it change the architectural look and feel of the Downtown.
Ordinance 4035 is written in plain English and it's easy to understand.
Second, Ordinance 4035 is not complex. It is lengthy, not because it is complicated, but because it is incredibly detailed. There are six pages of clear definitions, including ground-to-sky open space. Five pages of development review procedures. Six pages on parking. Almost nine pages of landscaping do’s and don’ts, including the size and kind of trees you can and cannot plant. Four pages on architectural design, some suggestive, but others quite specific, such as “no more than 40% of the perimeter of a building’s materials shall be composed of glass.” And there are six pages of specific road improvements that must be completed before Downtown development is allowed to proceed. All of these pages are written in plain, unambiguous English. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. A fifth grader could understand the language in Ordinance 4035.
Why do you think the authors of this document in 1992 went to such lengths to include such detail? Probably because they did not feel that developers would get it right if left to their own devices. They understood that profit is a powerful motivator. The temptation to cram every possible square foot of marketable space on each Downtown lot would prove irresistible. And they were right. Ordinance 4035 is not a trusting document. Its authors did their best to protect Boca’s future. If they fell short, it was not for lack of trying.
Ordinance 4035 is a visionary document.
Finally, Ordinance 4035 is also a visionary document. Just look at the section on energy and infrastructure. The authors understood that more development in the Downtown—more people, more cars—was going to stress the few roads that service the area. Therefore, they required as many road improvements as they could imagine PRIOR to letting development proceed. Think about that. They improved the roads before they allowed the buildings. By comparison, the Interim Development Guidelines approved the buildings but said nothing about the roads or traffic. The mantra of the IDG was “Build it and they will come.” But the corollary might have been “Build it and they will have no way to move around.”
Boca last took a comprehensive look at its traffic needs in 1992. They should undertake a comprehensive traffic study now, before they allow Downtown Boca to get any bigger. That is one of the most important lessons one can learn from reading Ordinance 4035.